In 1986, the five Guillemot brothers founded a mail-order videogame publisher called Ubi Soft in Brittany, France. Today, Ubisoft has more than 45 studios and offices around the world, more than 20,000 team members, and is the creative powerhouse behind beloved franchises including Assassin’s Creed, the Tom Clancy brands, Far Cry, Just Dance, Watch Dogs, and Rabbids.
To celebrate the company’s 35th anniversary, CEO and co-founder Yves Guillemot joins the Ubisoft Game Makers podcast for an in-depth conversation about the past, present, and future of Ubisoft. He retraces the history of the company and outlines his vision for the future of gaming in our quickly changing industry.
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The Publisher With a Creator’s Heart
Ubisoft started mainly as a publisher, distributing UK games in France and working with local third-party developers – often young, talented people creating small games from their homes. Even in these early days, the Guillemot brothers had their eyes on creation, and were using publishing and distribution to finance the development of original titles.
“That’s what we wanted to do,” Guillemot says. “But even at that time, it was costly to create games.”
A small in-house development team in Brittany developed Zombi, the company’s first game, released in 1986 for the Amstrad CPC.As the focus on development increased over the next few years, the Guillemot brothers founded Ubisoft’s first big studio in Paris, which was soon followed by new studios in Romania, Montreal, Shanghai, and beyond in the 1990s. Ubisoft’s international outlook was already part of its DNA.
Guillemot says he’s been passionate about the videogame industry since those early days because it’s a fast-changing environment. “The things are not set for the long-term,” he explains. “You have changes in technologies that are redistributing the cards to different players.” For Guillemot, this is what allowed Ubisoft to come in as a challenger, leveraging new technologies to create brands and enter new markets.
As for the technologies that Guillemot has his eyes fixed on for the future, he mentions cloud gaming and VR. With the former, he says that increased machine power will enable Ubisoft to create fantastic universes in which the world will react to the player more than today, and where players can use these spaces to build and share with others. With regards to VR, Guillemot reminds us that it is still an emerging technology. “I feel that it’s going to come back big-time,” he says. “What will be the exact form of the glasses and so on, to make you feel that reality, we don’t know exactly yet. But I see that being immersed in a world in 360, it’s something that is going to change the universe.”
When asked if there was a lesson he learned from his 35 years at the helm of Ubisoft, Guillemot turns to the topic of collaboration. “It’s a group achievement,” Guillemot says. “We worked hand-in-hand in creating those games, those great experiences. The main lesson is really: work together, have fun together, so you can create a lot more together.”
Humility, Pride, & Respect
During the conversation, Guillemot mentioned how Ubisoft draws a lot of learnings from the past and uses them as the foundation for the future. He returns to Ubisoft’s teams: how they built the company and created its games, and how their potential is the key to the future. And, also, how proud Ubisoft’s team members should be about what the company has achieved.
Guillemot emphasizes that his goal is for Ubisoft team members to be empowered to “be themselves […] not play a role” at work, so that they can “create great things together.” Guillemot hopes teams at Ubisoft feel great pride in their work, recognizing the part that each person brings to a bigger project. “It’s a collective creation for the benefit of the world we live in. That’s what I love about Ubisoft, being humble but creating experiences that will please people for ages.”
Guillemot recently sent an email to all Ubisoft team members in which he emphasizes the importance of freedom and responsibility in their work. Guillemot says, “The responsibility is to make sure that when you do things, you really respect others […] and you make sure that it is a collective achievement. So it’s not yourself, it’s not you alone. It’s really a group creating things, achieving results.”
“What sets us apart is the ability and the willingness of all Ubisoft team members to try new things, this goal to change the world,” Guillemot adds. “If we really can make this world a better place by bringing a lot of fun and the possibility for people to actually hang out together and have fun, we will have achieved something fantastic.”
Stay tuned for more content about Ubisoft’s history on Ubisoft News in the coming weeks, and visit the Ubisoft 35 homepage to discover current offers and giveaways until December 19.
For more about Ubisoft, be sure to check out the Inside Ubisoft page.